3 Tips to Answering the Question “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”

Ryan Morris
by Ryan Morris
Get The Job, Guides - 3 months ago

Consulting Resume

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

For the indecisive ones among us, this question can be one of the more stressful things a hiring manager might ask during a job interview.

But even those who know exactly where their career is headed don’t get off scot-free — both groups need to have an excellent and interesting way to frame their future career trajectory if they hope to have any chance of enticing someone to hire them.

But how do you put together the story of a career that is yet to come, especially if you have no idea what you yourself want that career to be like?

We’ve put together a few tips to help you figure out just this problem.


1. What Are They Really Asking?

Most job interview questions are some form or other of trap.

This one is too, to some extent, but as far as answering goes, it’s one of the relatively easier interview questions to deal with.

That is, at least, if you’re certain of where you’re headed with your career.

You see, there are two major perspectives you can answer this question from, and they don’t really overlap.

Either the career path you’re on right now is fairly solid and easy to define, or it’s not.

Neither of these perspectives is right or wrong — for the most part, no one cares if you’re in a job because it’s what you really want or if you’re in it because it seems like the right thing to do.

However, each of these perspectives requires an altogether different tactic when it comes to giving a successful answer.

2. How to Answer When Your Career Trajectory is Clear

When you know for a fact in what direction your career is headed, then you don’t have a ton of prepwork to do before you answer this question.

You’ve got the easy job — all you have to do when you’re asked this question is give an honest answer.

That being said, there is still a small degree of framing that you need to engage in if you hope to wow with your answer.

Because if your trajectory is obvious to you, then odds are it’s also obvious to anyone who understands your industry, too.

Things to keep in mind when describing your career path:

  • First of all, be sure that you’re right about where your career is headed. It’s ok to have unrealistic or unusual goals, but having unrealistic expectations can send up a big red flag to your interviewer, especially if they’ve been in the industry for awhile.
  • If you know that you’ve got exactly the same answer to this question as everyone else interviewing for the same job, think about what you can do to differentiate yourself. Are you entering this career from a unique perspective? Is this career a stepping stone to something else, something more unusual? Or do you just have an unusually strong grasp of the industry itself, and plan to rise through the ranks more quickly as a result?
  • As far as constructing your answer itself, be as clear as possible. Create an outline for your interviewer — after this many years you’ll be here doing this, after that many years you’ll be making this much doing that, and so on. You know what you’re doing and where you’re going, so impress them by being as specific as possible.

3. How to Answer When Your Career Trajectory is Uncertain

Unfortunately, not all of us know exactly what we want for breakfast tomorrow, let alone what we want out of a career.

But even so, we still need answers to this question.

Because replying to “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” with just a shrug and an “I dunno” is not very likely to impress anyone — it’s more likely to send up every red flag there is.

So how do you keep your options open without scaring away job opportunities?

Things to keep in mind when answering with an unclear future:

  • Your first, and perhaps only, responsibility here is to allay the hiring manager’s fears about your motivation to work. If you don’t want to be in this career or aren’t sure you do, talk about how it’s helping you achieve your real goal — and when you do, focus on the skills you’re learning and the value you’re adding to the company along the way.
  • If you can, talk about a few of your prospective career paths. Even if they’re not clear or a little contradictory, having a few potential plans is better than having none at all — in fact, it makes you a little more flexible in the long run.
  • Above all, think about what makes the best story. How can you interest your hiring manager in your own career trajectory? How can you prove to them that helping you down your career path, or helping you discover that career path entirely, would be beneficial to them as a company?

Wrapping Up:

That’s all for this one! Just keep in mind:

If all else fails and you really can’t think of any way to answer this question without telling your interviewer that you have no idea where you’re going with your career, just remember that there’s always a trump card you can pull:

That is to say, lying.

Ethics aside, you don’t really owe a hiring manager anything as far as your future goes. If you don’t know what else to say and if this job seems like the kind that’s more likely to only hire people that want to stick around awhile, consider lying.

When you’re lying, you answer this question basically like the second section of this describes — you talk about the generic career path that people in this field tend to go down, and talk about how much you want that.

It’s ok if it’s not necessarily true — you can always turn down promotions that might lead you down that path, should you be offered them, and you’re entitled to change your mind down the road.

Just something to keep in your back pocket, if you’re having trouble.

Best of luck! Here are some other links to help you on your way:

3 Tips to Answering the Question “Why Should We Hire You?”
3 Tips to Making a Lateral Career Move
3 Tips on How to Follow Up With a Recruiter

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